One of the more significant challenges in understanding how to end homelessness in a community like Greater Victoria is estimating how much housing we need and of what sort. How much affordable housing do we need for people whose primary challenge is the high cost structure in Victoria and how much supportive housing do we need for people who, for one reason or another, are challenged to maintain housing for reasons that go beyond affordability?
We took a significant step towards understanding these numbers earlier this fall when we published the study “Patterns of Homelessness in Greater Victoria“. In this study we looked at every individual who accessed a shelter over the past four years. We then used some sophisticated statistical analysis to determine their level of need, based on how often they accessed a shelter and for how long. This allowed us to identify three statistically significant categories of shelter user.
One type of user is short term. These individuals only access the shelters on one or two occasions for a short period of time. This pattern of use indicates that whatever challenge they face is some kind of temporary crisis. This could mean an income issue or it could be fleeing an abusive household or some other issue that has put them temporarily at risk. This number is indicative of the need for more affordable housing in Greater Victoria.
The second category of user is more episodic. They visit the shelter more often and they stay longer when they do. The third category of user stays even longer. They don’t visit the shelter as often as an episodic user but when they do the stay is – on average – six months. The pattern of use for these two categories of individual indicates that there is something beyond affordability that impacts their ability to find and maintain housing. The number of individuals in these groups is indicative of how much supportive housing we need in our region.
So what do those numbers look like?
As you can see some 85% of individuals who accessed an emergency shelter in Greater Victoria over the past four years did so only temporarily. Almost 15% of users fell into the higher needs category. So by applying those overall percentages to the number of individuals who accessed a shelter over the past year we can get a relatively accurate estimate of how many people currently need supportive housing in Greater Victoria.
What does that look like? Well, 1,780 individuals accessed a shelter last year. 15% of 1,780 is 270. Now we can assume that not everyone who needs supportive housing accesses a shelter but the vast majorities do. So this 270 supported housing units is a minimum, but the total is not likely to be much larger.
This number shows us that although Greater Victoria, like the rest of Canada faces an affordable housing crisis, ending homelessness IS an achievable goal.